As the rest of the world eagerly waits to put 2020 in its rearview mirror, Kamikochi is already looking back at what was probably the strangest season in recent history. In addition to being affected by the global pandemic, the park was battered by heavy rains and even endured a spate of bear encounters. It wasn’t all bad however, the spring flower and autumn leaf seasons came and went as usual, even with fewer people around to enjoy them. Local businesses took a hit but kept returning to provide service to visitors with their usual aplomb.
In today’s blog, we’ll be looking back at this peculiar season, pausing to take in the sights and sounds (OK, sights mainly) along the way. As usual, we’re drawing on the stellar work of the Five Sense bloggers who posted a two part retrospective of their own in late November. At time of writing, they’ve shut up shop for the winter and have returned to nearby Matsumoto. We look forward to reading their future work.
Now, without further ado, let’s look back at 2020:
By the time that Kamikochi’s tourist season would usually be kicking off, the world was already in the midst of the global pandemic known as COVID-19. Japan saw a sudden spike in cases around the end of March leading the government to declare a nationwide state of emergency. While this didn’t amount to a lockdown as such, people were asked to exercise voluntary self-restraint (自粛) by staying at home and avoiding cross-prefecture travel. Schools closed across the country and Kamikochi saw it’s opening date delayed for safety reasons.
The coming months also saw the government introduce bans on travelers entering the country from abroad, effectively shutting out international visitors to Kamikochi.
During this time, the anemone flaccida bloomed in silence, with only local wildlife present to enjoy the sight.
By the start of June, some businesses were up and running again. Five Sense resumed their guide service on the first of the month as visitors began to trickle in.
The first wave of corona infections had been relatively mild in Japan, especially compared to conditions in other large, developed countries. An attitude of cagey optimism began to take hold and by July, the park was set to resume business as usual. People employed at hotels and other key services around Kamikochi posted a heartwarming video thanking everyone for their patience and encouraging them to visit. You can still watch it here.
…Mother Nature had other ideas. The 2020 rainy season battered Kamikochi with wave upon wave of heavy rainfall. The rivers swelled and landslides caused blockages along the roads leading into the park. As a result, hundreds of travelers were marooned inside Kamikochi overnight causing concern among local authorities. Thanks to the diligent efforts of relief crews though, everyone made it out OK.
It should also be said that, for all their damaging effects, the heavy rain did result in some beautiful scenes:
The disruptions caused by the rains were a setback to businesses in Kamikochi and we’re all hoping for a smoother ride in 2020.
As the rainy season came to an end, campers eagerly started staking their tents around Konashidaira and other campgrounds. Unfortunatley, they weren’t the only ones to take an interest in the picturesque camping spot. Several black bears whose food supply had been distrurbed by the heavy rains found their way to the campground and, in at least one case, attacked visitors. Luckily, no lives were lost, but those unfortunate enough to encounter foraging bears were left shaken by the experience.
By the time September rolled around, the park had cooled considerably. Frost had started to appear by the end of the month, hastening the arrival of the autumn foliage season.
As always, Kamikochi served up a symphony of autumn color with the mellow gold foliage of the larch trees as the main highlight. But all good things come to an end:
And so, it must be said do all not so good things. 2020 has been a challenging year for untold millions (billions even?) around the world. As we turn the corner into 2021, the development of effective COVID vaccines gives us hope of better times ahead. We may soon experience freedom of movement and be able to visit all of our favorite places in Japan’s Northern Alps and beyond. Someday soon, I may even be able to visit with family members from Canada after more than a year of making do with video chats.
Brighter days ahead, folks. Brighter days ahead.
Until those days arrive, however, we encourage all of our readers to exercise to ensure their own safety and the safety of those close to them. Kamikochi isn’t going anywhere. It will be waiting for you next spring.
Sources of Information:
Nature Guide: Five Sense, Kamikochi blog: https://fivesense.guide/blog/column/29181/